The Founder and current Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia, over the weekend appeared on Bloomberg TV to promote his forthcoming book titled ‘Africa Rise And Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 billion’.
Speaking during the interview session, he reminisced about his days of little beginnings, how he founded the tier 1 bank back in 1990 with just N20 million, and how aspiring entrepreneurs can overcome the difficult business environment in Nigeria.
According to him, Zenith Bank was founded during the military era; a time when the business environment was tough and uncertain. But he and his team managed to persevere. He, therefore, advised entrepreneurs to learn to take advantage of opportunities and never be discouraged by the challenges that they may face.
About his book
Speaking about the new book, Mr Ovia made reference to some years ago when Nigeria and the entire African continent was categorised as a hopeless and war-torn place. Fortunately, the narrative about Africa is changing even as Westerners’ perspective continues to do same too, he said.
He cited the emergence of more democratically-elected governments and the flourishing of African enterprises as some of the factors responsible and hopes that his new book would help engender the positive conversation.
He also used the opportunity to advise foreign investors not to be discouraged by any negative report they may hear about Nigeria. This is because the business environment is not as bad as it has been portrayed in some quarters.
In his word:
“We started the business with N20 million at an exchange rate of N5 to a dollar. So, we actually started the business with $4 million in 1990, and it has now blossomed. We now have a total asset base of $16 billion. If you look at the arithmetic, there have been over 1000 per cent growth. You can’t get that anywhere. Even in the best economies in the world, you are not going to get that type of benefit.
“So, that is the kind of risk entrepreneurs, businesses or international investors must take in Nigeria or any other African country reap tremendously in terms of quantum growth in their business.” – Ovia
His perspective on the recent performances of stocks on the NSE
During the course of the interview, Mr Ovia was asked whether the recently-recorded lacklustre performance of stocks on the NSE was due to political uncertainty and he said no.
According to him, the uninteresting performance is due to the normalisation of interest rates in the USA and some other developed markets in Europe and Asia. He explained that because the Nigerian bourse is not isolated, it often mimics what obtains in the global arena. Moreover, the US is one of the countries where Nigeria has a lot of international investors. Now, the interest rate is rising in the country, and it is having ripple effects on the Nigerian market.
What he thinks about non-performance loans (NPLs)
Jim Ovia also shared his opinion on the spate of non-performing loans in the Nigerian banking sector. He said NPLs is a challenge everywhere in the world, but “we don’t necessarily worry because it depends on how you are able to hedge against some of those risks.”
About Jim Ovia
Jim Ovia is a seasoned industrialist and one of the most successful and influential businessmen in Nigeria. He is also one of the wealthiest Nigerians, with a net worth of about N122.1 billion.
However, despite his wealth and status, Mr Ovia tends to shy away from the media; seldom granting interviews. It is interesting to see him towing the same path as Tony Elumelu, Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola who are a lot more ‘media friendly’.
Note that asides founding Zenith Bank Plc, Mr Ovia is also the Founder of Visa Communications Limited and also sits on the board of several companies.